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Oct 4, 2012 by APRIL McCARTHY
Is Coffee Responsible For A Leading Cause of Glaucoma Worldwide? Be Wise In Your Choices

We all love our coffee and many health benefits have surfaced regarding consumption, but something has changed in the coffee bean in the last hundred years. Coffee growers have become reckless in their practices and conventional sources have become very polluted. The average cup of joe is not what it used to be. A new study now suggests caffeinated coffee drinkers should limit their intake to reduce their chances of developing vision loss or blindness.

Over 1,000 chemicals have now been reported in roasted coffee, and 19 are known rodent carcinogens. Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum. Worldwide coffee production tips the scales at about 6 million metric tonnes. The average yield from one tree is the equivalent of one roasted pound of coffee and it takes five years for a coffee tree to reach maturity. Coffee growers must thus resort to toxic methods to ensure maximum yield from their crops including the use of harmful chemicals to ensure crops are free of insects and pathogens.

The coffee plant is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. It's coated with chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides, nothing you'd want to be ingesting. These chemicals then leech into the ground water and make people sick in local areas where coffee is grown.

A previous study on women found that drinking caffeinated coffee can alter levels of estrogen, a regulating hormone in women.

According to a new scientific paper in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, heavy caffeinated coffee consumption is associated with an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma, the leading cause of secondary glaucoma worldwide.

The study, The Relation between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts, is the first to examine the link between caffeinated coffee and exfoliation glaucoma in a U.S. -based population.

"Scandinavian populations have the highest frequencies of exfoliation syndrome and glaucoma," said author, Jae Hee Kang, ScD, of Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass. "Because Scandinavian populations also have the highest consumption of caffeinated coffee in the world, and our research group has previously found that greater caffeinated coffee intake was associated with increased risk of primary open-angle glaucoma, we conducted this study to evaluate whether the risk of exfoliation glaucoma or glaucoma suspect may be different by coffee consumption."

The study was composed of two cohorts: 78,977 women from the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and 41,202 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) who were at least 40 years of age, did not have glaucoma and reported undergoing eye examinations from 1980 (for NHS participants) and 1986 (for HPFS participants) to 2008. The research team used questionnaires to obtain and validate the consumption of beverages containing caffeine and reviewed medical records to determine incident cases of exfoliation glaucoma, which contributes to elevated pressure sufficient enough to damage the optic nerve, or exfoliation glaucoma suspect that have milder or only suspect optic nerve damage.

A meta-analysis of the two cohorts showed that, compared to abstainers, participants who drank three cups or more of caffeinated coffee daily were at an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma or glaucoma suspect. The researchers did not find associations with consumption of other caffeinated products, such as soda, tea, chocolate or decaffeinated coffee. The results also showed that women with a family history of glaucoma were at an increased risk.

"The results indicate that caffeinated coffee may be a contributor to eye disease, however differentiating between different coffees, their origin and growing operations needs further research," said researcher Jonathan Klymchuk.

Kang, along with his colleagues, report that this study represents a much needed effort to better understand the causes of exfoliation glaucoma, which are largely unknown.

"Because this is the first study to evaluate the association between caffeinated coffee and exfoliation glaucoma in a U.S. population, confirmation of these results in other populations would be needed to lend more credence to the possibility that caffeinated coffee might be a modifiable risk factor for glaucoma," said Kang. "It may also lead to research into other dietary or lifestyle factors as risk factors.

The study did not assess organic varieties of coffee as opposed to conventional so the type of coffee may certainly make a difference but further research would be necessary to validate that hypothesis. In the meantime, if you love coffee, here's what to look out for before purchasing:

- Coffee should be brewed within 4-6 weeks after roasting. The industry standard shelf life is 1 year. Over 70% of coffee importers do not follow these protocols far exceeding the time range for sales and stock.

- Stay away from your local coffee shop, Starbucks, McDonald's or any other conventional chain that does not insist on using organic sources with certified credentials. Check your labels and ensure you are purchasing organic certified products.

- There are renowned coffee beans and brands for organic java which are trusted by countless coffee lovers around the world. Green Mountain: Fair Trade Organic, Sprouts Farmers Market and Tom Thumb (Safeway): O Organics European Blend are just few of the brands established in the market today.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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